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Wed, Jul 13, 2011

JPADS Exceeds Expectations

Draper Laboratory Says Precision Airdrops Are Beating US Military Design Specs

The US military conducted the first operational mission in Afghanistan in May with a system that allows it to drop supplies such as food, water and ammunition from cargo planes far more accurately than in the past. The technique has the potential to reduce troop casualties and give the military another option for assisting with some humanitarian operations. Draper Laboratory says software it developed is responsible for the dramatic increase in accuracy for the 2,000 pound payload system.

JPADS, the US Army’s Joint Precision Airdrop 2K system, operates completely autonomously once dropped from a C-17 or C-130 cargo plane. It could lead the military to revamp its tactics for resupply by reducing the need for truck convoys that leave troops vulnerable to enemy fire. It could also lessen the urgency for some cargo UAVs currently on the drawing board, essentially light "air trucks" which would carry much smaller loads than a Hercules or Globemaster.

Currently, Draper notes US and allied troops in Afghanistan receive roughly 75 percent of their supplies from trucks maneuvering along the Khyber Pass, where Taliban and Al-Qaeda attacks on ground vehicles and helicopters have resulted in high rates of casualties. The military also deals with harsh weather conditions in the winter months, and mountainous terrain.

Those concerns led the US Army to begin a rapid development program in February 2010 for an improved precision airdrop capability that could avoid difficult ground terrain in order to accurately reach those troops. Draper responded by turning the capability around in less than a year for under $1.5 million. By landing supplies far closer to U.S. forces on the battlefield than was previously possible, the improved accuracy also vastly reduces the time that troops on the battlefield need to be exposed to potential enemy fire while recovering supplies. Draper demonstrated that the system could exceed the military’s accuracy and obstacle avoidance goals while operating in terrain similar to that of Afghanistan during testing at Yuma Proving Ground during the past year.

The Army recently deployed an initial increment of JPADS 2K systems utilizing the Draper software to Afghanistan for use in Operational Enduring Freedom, and is currently developing plans to convert future deployed systems to Draper’s software. Results for all systems exceeded the Army’s goals during the first operational mission in May.

The Draper-developed JPADS guidance, navigation and control software is non-proprietary, owned by the government, and applicable to a wide variety of hardware platforms, so it could be used in other missions such as relief efforts. One potential example of humanitarian resupply in which high accuracy is required is if the US government is delivering supplies to civilians and needs to ensure that the provisions do not fall into enemy hands.

Draper has successfully flown the software on platforms manufactured by several vendors with payload capacity ranging from five pounds, which could handle medical supplies, blood packets, or sensors, to 42,000 pounds, which could handle a truck or armored vehicle.



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